KENYA- Co-operative Bank of Kenya together with various global agricultural input giants and other entities including Agrico, Bayer East Africa, Simplifine Ltd, and Yara East Africa, has backed a new initiative that seeks to boost yields and incomes for potato farmers in Kenya.

The partners have joined forces with several counties by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on contract farming, crop protection, and value addition on potatoes under a consortium.

The initiative will be implemented over a period of two years and aims to increase the yield of the tuber to 14 tonnes per hectare against a current level of around 7 to 10 tonnes. It also plans to reduce post-harvest losses recorded in the sector by 50%.

The pilot program in the first half of 2023 has been launched in the country and targets four counties, including Nyandarua, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet, and Nyeri.

Yara Fertilizer Marketing Manager Ms. Carol Mumo said the consortium that brings together the various players would come in handy in helping farmers get access to quality seeds, a financial boost from the Cooperative Bank as the main financier, and agrochemicals and fertilizers that are specifically designed for the specific type of crop.

Co-operative Bank Head of Agriculture Business Esther Kariuki said the initiative targets to reach over 30,000 farmers by 2026, improving yields by 50 percent and reducing post-harvest losses by at least 50 percent.

She noted key gaps will be addressed, including agronomy, commercial and digital knowledge as well as access to finance and markets.

Speaking during the signing of the MoU, Governor Dr. Kiarie Badilisha noted that one of the greatest challenges facing potato farmers in the county was market access noting that it was a sad paradox that the country continued to import potatoes for high-end food chains when local farmers in Nyandarua, who are the leading producers, are struggling to get quality value for their produce.

“The consortium of like-minded companies that play within the potato value chain is addressing current barriers that potato farmer’s face by enabling access to affordable and quality inputs, credit, and sustainable markets,” said the lender.

“The Co-operative Bank of Kenya will provide capacity-building support to the county Government and Co-operative societies to enable them to form and run strong, efficient, and well-governed potato Co-operatives. The bank will also provide affordable financing options for the farmers to ensure timely access to quality inputs, water, mechanization, and post-harvest solutions.”

According to International Potato Center, potato is now the second most important food crop after maize in Kenya, grown by more than 4.5 million small-scale farmers and generating employment a great deal along the value chain.

Improved potato production has the potential to significantly boost farm incomes, the Peru-based research-for-development organization with a focus on potato, sweet potato, and Andean roots and tubers.

Recently, a Dutch biotechnology company that specializes in hybrid potato breeding, Solynta, joined forces with Kenya-based technology-driven agricultural company FreshCrop Limited to develop a hybrid true potato innovation in the country.

The companies are collaborating to facilitate the future introduction of high-quality hybrid potato seed tubers produced from hybrid true potato seeds to put an end to the shortage of clean starting material in the region, allowing farmers to benefit from access to disease-free seed tubers.

As part of this partnership, FreshCrop will leverage its extensive seed distribution network in Nakuru, Nyandarua, and Narok counties to facilitate the dissemination and adoption by farmers of new seed potatoes derived from hybridization developed by Solynta.

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